Day 2: Six Impossible Things

“Why, I’ve sometimes believed six impossible things before breakfast.” – Alice in Wonderland

1) I won’t loose my mind sitting in traffic for half the day

Tuesday began as did yesterday, as will tomorrow and forever: in traffic. We got back to our hotel, Coconut Ville, about twenty minutes ago and estimate that we netted about four hours in gridlock. That’s par for the course in a city where people – too scared to sleep in their homes – have set up tents in the streets.

For sanity’s sake, you adopt the disposition of your driver – in this case, the curious Valery. Say, for example, someone cuts Valery off or he thinks they’ve made a driving faux pas: he’ll pull up beside them, roll down his window and say something to the effect of, “I feel sad when you don’t let me merge,” or, “I would prefer if you’d use your turn signals.” It’s like couples therapy. The guy next to us will laugh and give Valery a thumbs-up, Valery will shoot one back and then shrug to Allison and me, “I have to teach.”

Valery also gave us a Haitian’s History of Haiti and a personal account of January 12 [the earthquake]. The lectures were complicated/authentic and impossible to wrap my head around, respectively. All told, it was an education in patience and reality and not a bad way to spend four hours.

2) I will make Allison’s “Favorite Stories from Abroad” list

Our first meeting on today’s docket was up in Petion Ville with Save the Children. Save’s providing healthcare at 47 sites in Haiti, concentrated in Port-au-Prince and Jacmel, and they’re interested in replacing/augmenting their use of HousAlls (pre-fab clinical spaces made of what looks and feels a lot like posterboard and would be totally wrecked by strong winds) with the C2C clinic.

Save’s headquarters in Petion Ville is quite the establishment, and we had to check in with a cadre of security guards before entering the building. They asked for I.D. at the gate, so Allison whipped out her passport, a guy looked at it for a hot minute, found the information he was looking for and wrote in his book: “Howard, Allison.” All set.

The first thing I’d fished out of my bag was my wallet, so I handed the guard my New York State Driver’s License. The guy stared at my I.D. for a good 90 seconds and then, with furrowed brow and much deliberation, began writing in all caps “O” “R” “G” “A” “N” -space – “D” “O” “N” – at which point I – reading the thing upside down – totally lost it to giggles and Allison guffawed: “ORGAN DONOR?!” Recognizing nothing about my license, the security guard had decided that my name would be written in the boldest, most obvious text, which in the case of my NY State I.D. is “ORGAN DONOR.” In any event, we explained it to the whole security team, everyone had a good laugh, and I will forever be known as “Organ” by the security detail at the Save headquarters.

The meeting itself went well; we’re waiting to hear back from the Director of Health and Nutrition about a few site visits later this week. More detail to follow.

3) I will meet a movie star in Port-au-Prince

We wrapped the day at the weekly Health Cluster meeting at the UN compound, which abuts the airport and is a stone’s throw from a massive U.S. Army operation. The WHO [World Health Organization] is coordinating all health-related activities in Haiti, and they have weekly meetings to assemble all the players, download everyone’s information (shared best practices), and act as conduit between the Ministry of Health and health-focused NGOs.

This last piece is quite the task, especially when you consider the host of what seasoned folk here call “cowboy NGOs.” Speaking of cowboys, Sean Pean was at the meeting. Wait, what? Yes, seriously. Sean Penn apparently has a foundation that’s running a “hospital” (read: tent. Everything here is semi-permanent/temporary) at what I’m told is the largest IDP [internally displaced persons] camp in PAP. The camp is one of many “spontaneous” camps that people migrated to after the earthquake. This one is home to about 70,000 who took refuge on Petion-Ville Club’s golf course. I’m sure the owners of this swanky private club are pleased; with 70,000 people, spontaneous or otherwise, this camp will squat on the golf course for a while. Which brings me to my next point:

4) Children can still be children in IDP camps

Allison and I, fascinated by everything we’d heard about the camp and with a professional interest in seeing Save’s HousAll structures in action, decided to check it out earlier this afternoon (note: in addition to the Sean Penn Hospital, Save’s operating a two-unit HousAll primary care clinic in the camp).

The PV (Petion Ville) camp is unlike anything either of us has ever seen. Imagine it’s 95 degrees, there’s no shade, little in the way of sanitation control, blue and orange tarps as far as you can see one right on top of the other, people pushing each other up and down narrow paths in the steep camp side (an IDP camp built into a hillside – not a super decision considering uphill latrines and the impending rainy season…), and hundreds upon hundreds lined up front-to-back to collect food rations. People were just absolutely EVERYWHERE, without schools or jobs or music or dancing and who will for the foreseeable future be focused “simply” on survival.

And yet, their children smile. At first, they were totally skeptical of two weirdo random ladies loitering around, peeking into the clinic (which, by the way, seemed to be operating well and for the primary benefit of women and children) and scratching their heads. But, for a camera, what child won’t smile? What kid isn’t going to giggle and run away, come back, giggle and run away when he sees his face played back to him on my camera screen? Maybe he didn’t even know what he was looking at, but it was fantastical and he was curious and he smiled. He’s a kid. Even in an IDP camp, thank god a kid can smile.

5) Healthcare can be administered from inside a topless bar

This is a brief return to Monday’s expedition to Petite Goave. Fact: IMC is operating their primary care clinic from an abandoned topless bar on the beach. Central, spacious, shady, it’s everything they need. Of course, the naked women painted on the walls, the tarp room dividers, and the five feet to the water aren’t ideal, hence their interest in the C2C clinic.

This is something we’ve seen a lot of in the past two days: organizations and people not letting “perfect” be the enemy of the good; rather, they’ve optimized what’s available -whether that’s tents, overheated HousAlls, or abandoned topless bars. Still, two months out from the earthquake, everyone’s a bit tired of the obvious limitations of these spaces for use as sustainable health structures, and a C2C clinic presents like a godsend. There’s a clear need for the stability and adaptability of C2C clinics all over the country. Scaling the model here poses interesting questions, but now I’m getting ahead of myself, so let’s just leave it there. The take-away is simply: Yes, healthcare and provocative wall art can cohabit.

6) I will survive a week of eating only Clif bars and fried plantains

So far so good

This entry was posted on by Allison Howard-Berry.

1 thought on “Day 2: Six Impossible Things

  1. liz

    This is an extraordinary dialogue, Kathleen. IOS it right to say that you had a slightly different week than your friends in the South End. Thank you for reporting what you have seen, the situation sounds overwhelming but the human spirit forever rebounding. Travel safely, keep on writing
    Liz

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